Luke Mitchem has been compared to some pretty stellar artists since 2009 when he released his first album, including Ryan Adams, Damien Rice and Ray Lamontagne. A few minutes into Love, Laura and the Bomb, it is clear that these comparisons are valid. Mitchem’s vocals are front and center on this collection of acoustic songs. He’s got a soft, yet powerful voice that often overshadows the music, but that isn’t a bad thing, because his voice is the kind that draws people in. The album opens with a short tune “…love…” in which Mitchem shares the vocal spotlight with Stacie Fredrich.
The songs on Love, Laura and the Bomb display both intimacy and maturity. Luke’s backing band, The Endless Spirits Band, play with simplicity. The most notable instrument on many of these songs is not the guitar but the harmonica, as it is the one instrument that doesn’t slip into the background. It really sets the mood on “Pretty Girl From Annapolis,” which is very melancholy. Most of Luke’s songs have that same mood, and the arrangements reflect that. Bevin Foley plays a mournful fiddle on “Old Man On A Porch Swing.”
Luke found inspiration for the song “Under The World” in Abby Sunderland’s quest to become the youngest solo-circumnavigator to sail around the world. He really captures the spirit of the young sailor with his lyrics. “She left the pacific, the passages were indifferent, to circle the edge of the world, and oceans like mountains, and skies imperfections, she listened to the minor chords, cos under the world, sails a girl, looking to be set free.” The song starts out with the sounds of rushing waves and the acoustic guitar brings an uplifting quality to a melody that is lighter than most on Love, Laura and the Bomb. Most of the songs seem to be downers, so finding a track that isn’t comes as a bit of a relief. “Smile” is another such song. It is just Luke singing and Pat Carey playing the mandolin, and could easily be mistaken as a song from the Mermaid Avenue album by Wilco and Billy Bragg. In fact, Mitchem sounds just a little bit like Jeff Tweedy on this track.
The songs that lean more towards Americana are Mitchem at his best, with near-perfect music, lyrics and arrangements. Luke sounds lively on them, and while every song can’t be perky and upbeat, those are the songs that really stand out on this record.
A few more melancholy standouts include “Weeping Willow Tree” and “A Fire Still Burns.” The former of the two is so slow that many listeners may lose interest before the song reaches its end, while the latter balances the slow tempo with some spark and levity from the harmonica.
Love, Laura and the Bomb is an album folk fans will revel in. Luke Mitchem is a new face on the scene, but his voice will sound like an old friend. It will be interesting to see how Luke progresses on future albums. If Love, Laura and the Bomb is any indication, he is certainly an artist to watch.
Review by Andrea Guy
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)